"The Identity That Really Works"

Sermon Preached By Rev. Richard E. Stetler - 09/24/2000

James 3:13-18; Mark 9:30-37

     A teaching of Jesus that really challenges us is this one: "The people who want to be first must place themselves last of all and they must be servants of everyone else." This is challenging because it requires that we walk into situations where we cannot control either the people or the outcome of the circumstances. This teaching is difficult to make a part of our lives because many times our best efforts do not achieve the results that we desire. Jesus' request of us was to be of service to others. That is all. The long-term consequences of our servitude is up to God, who is always at work in creation.

     Last week a friend sent me a story with an interesting twist at the end. A man and his dog were killed in an automobile accident. Interestingly enough, they both found themselves together in the next world. As they walked, they came to the gates of Heaven. The man noticed that gates were made of solid pearl. As they approached the gates, they slowly opened.

     The man could not believe what his eyes beheld. The streets were made of pure gold. Everything he saw was breathtakingly beautiful. A very well-dressed person met him and said, "Welcome to Heaven." And the new arrival said, "Might I please have some water for my dog?" The gatekeeper said, "I'm sorry, but we have no pets here." The man thought that was strange and chose not to enter this beautiful realm. He thanked the gatekeeper and continued on his way.

     Eventually the pair met another person. He said, "What is this place?" She said, "This is Heaven." He said, "But there are no gates, no walls. There is nothing here but open space." She said, "Do you believe Heaven should have gates?" He smiled at the thought and said, "Do you happen to have a source of water for my dog?" She said, "Of course. Follow me." They came to an old pump and the woman moved the handle up and down until water came gushing out. And as the dog lapped the water, she stooped, petted the fine animal, and spoke kind words to it.

     The man said, "What is that nearby place with the pearly gates and the streets of gold? The gatekeeper told me that it was Heaven." She said, "That is a place where souls go who still hold many attachments to your material world. They left their bodies believing that Heaven is a place where they will receive their eternal reward. It is a place of transition. They tend to stay with others who are like them until they learn how to be otherwise. God allows that here. There are others of us who do not need rewards for us to be who we are. We enjoy being helpful whenever and wherever we can, and that includes giving water to your wonderful companion."

     This story needs our imagination, but it communicates an interesting point of view concerning our identity. We are not followers of Jesus because of our need for spiritual security. We are not followers of Jesus so we can be with our own kind. We are not followers of Jesus to impress others with the possible uniqueness of our beliefs. Such things were no doubt the basis for the disciples arguing among themselves. Their arguing over what was essential for true greatness was what prompted Jesus to teach them his definition of discipleship.


     Thank you God for creating within us the desire to learn more about the art of living. We know that there are many hours that we commit to entertainment, and we call it "a needed break." Many of us would rather see a movie than read a book. We would rather listen to truth than commit ourselves to living it. We would rather withdraw from conflict than give others the benefit of our insights. Inspire us to deepen our accountability as disciples of Jesus Christ.  Inspire us to seek and find your presence in the unexpected.  Inspire us to make our faith visible beyond the walls of our church. As we continue the adventure of living, may we do so trusting in your desire to channel your love through us. Amen.


     We thank you, God, for filling our lives with so many opportunities to experience your presence. When we are not so preoccupied with our personal concerns, we can sense our role as co- creators each time a baby is born. We can watch with wonder as broken bones knit during the healing process. Our minds can find comfort and peace in the presence of a friend. We know how meaningful these moments can be as worship leads us away from the cares of our lives. For a while we can be in the presence of thoughts that are timeless.

     This morning we are grateful for people who have helped give our lives meaning and purpose. We scarcely know what our lives would have been like had it not for people who committed their time and energy to our development and character formation. So often, O God, we found the way because someone cared enough about us to show us. We learned the truth about who we are because someone took time to teach us. We learned to care and love because someone took time to mend our broken heart with words and deeds that touched us. We learned to understand our faith because someone gave us a Bible. And we learned to pass all of it on to others because Jesus showed us. He said, "I have come among you as one who serves.

     Guide our thinking this morning so that, as our lives continue to evolve, we might be more useful instruments in our world. We pray these thoughts through the spirit of Jesus, who taught us to say when we pray . . .